How To Learn New Skills: Part 2 — Using Smart Practice

“If you don’t practice, you can fall down, but you surely can’t ski.” — Murray Johannsen

Legacee’s Skill Development Model

You can practice wrong. To shorten the time needed and the amount of practice required by keeping in mind two core elements of skillful practice: feedback and motivation. 

By Murray Johannsen, May 8, 2016.  Comments? Feel free to connect with the author via this website, Linkedin profile,  or by  email.

1. Elements of Smart Practice

2. The Importances of Strong Motivation

3. The Role of  Feedback in Skill Building

4. The Role of Timing


• The Essence of Skill-Based Theory

• Full Class: Skill-Based Expertise: What You Must Know to Build Skills Faster 

• Skilled Practice: What you must Know to Do Things Well

• Full Class: Skilled Practice: How To Boost Performance

• A Teaching Story: What Most People Do Wrong

Elements of Smart Practice According To Anderson

According to Anderson (1985) skill building goes through the cognitive, associative and autonomous stages.

Staying in the cognitive stage requires too much thinking continuing in the associative stage is inefficient, and getting to the autonomous stage requires lots of practice (Anderson, 1985). Since these three stages apply to all skill learning including playing chess, typing, memorizing, or problem solving, exceptional people strive to discover how to learn a skill quicker than their peers. Shortening the practice cycle occurs when using smart practice techniques.

Smart practice refers to how one goes about shorting the skill development process. All methods of practice are not equally effective in boosting efficiency. Since a skill must be practiced, a great amount of time, effort and sweat can be saved by following a few general principles.

The Role of Timing In Skilled Practice

Learning by massed practice is very inefficient. By this I mean practicing for a long-time instead more numerous shorter practices. For example, Bray (1948) studied individuals in the military who were learning Morse code. He found that individuals with 7 hours of practice learned it equally well as those with 4 hours of practice. In other words, people were putting in three extra hours a day of useless practice. Gay (1973) reported similar effects for cognitive skills such as learning the rules of algebra. 

Practicing one-hour every day over eight days will produce a higher level of skill than eight-hours of practice in a single day. This means that skill building sessions to improve a certain skill would best be taught in short bursts over weeks rather than as two-day intensives.

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Skill-based learning requires a different process from that used in corporate training or university classes. Essentially, one must learn practical theory that one then applies in the real world. It’s this combination of skill development through practice and feedback that allows one to achieve mastery.

But you must practice in a correct manner or you see few gains for the effort. One must not only practice physically, but mentally to get the most from your effort. But unless you happen to be an athlete, you never learned the secrets associated with efficient practice.

References and Resources

McCelland, David (N.D.) Achievement Motivation. Accel. 

Anderson, J. R. (1985). Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications. New York: Freeman, page 240-241.

Bray, C. W. (1948). Psychology and Military Proficiency. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ.

Gay, I. R. (1973). Temporal Position of Reviews and its Effect on the Retention of Mathematical Rules. Journal of Educational Psychology, 64:171-182.

Johannsen, Murray (2014).  Operant Conditioning — A Practical Overview, Legacee.

Wikipedia, Sloth, N.D. 

Leadership Skill Development